It is a well known fact that lentils are extremely high in fibre. This fibre is both soluble and insoluble – insoluble fibre isn’t broken down by the gut and absorbed into the bloodstream. It adds bulk to waste in the digestive system which helps to keep you regular whilst preventing constipation.
Soluble fibre is soft and sticky and absorbs water to form a gel-like substance inside the digestive system. It helps to soften the stool so it can slide through the GI tract more easily and binds to substances like cholesterol and sugar, preventing or slowing their absorption into the blood. That's why it's known to help regulate blood sugar levels and protect against heart disease. What's more, soluble fibre boosts the population of good bacteria in the gut which is linked to improved immunity, anti-inflammatory effects and even enhanced mood.
Several studies have shown that eating lentils reduces your risk of heart disease due to their high fibre content. Lentils are also a great source of folate and magnesium, both being big contributors to heart health. Folate lowers your homocysteine levels, a serious risk factor for heart disease. Folate works to convert the amino acid homocysteine into methionine - a deficiency allows homocysteine levels to accumulate in the body. High levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease and stroke. Magnesium improves blood flow, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Low levels of magnesium have been directly associated with heart disease - eating lentils will boost your intake of this important mineral.
The fibre content acts as a prebiotic that helps to improve gut health and maintains a healthy microflora environment. This makes the body more efficient at processing waste whilst maximising the nutritional content of the food ingested. Extremely rich in immune boosting minerals, lentils provide a healthy dose of zinc, folate, copper, manganese, magnesium and selenium.
Adding to the many benefits of fibre, soluble fibre traps carbohydrates, slowing down digestion and stabilizing blood sugar levels. This can be especially helpful for those with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia.
Folklore and history
Historically the largest consumers of lentils have been peoples from the Asian sub-continent. Around a quarter of the world's production of lentils come from India, most of which are consumed there and not even exported. The ancient recipe of dhal, or lentil curry, is a staple in most Indian diets, eaten with both rice and roti bread.
The earliest archeological dating of lentils is from the Paleolithic and Mesolithic layers of Franchthi Cave in Greece (13,000 to 9,500 years ago).
The lentil was an important crop in ancient times with the size of its seeds slowly increasing since classical times. Lentils are associated with the Old World agricultural revolution in prehistoric times, domesticated along with einkorn and emmer wheats, barley, pea, and flax. Lentils were also spread with Neolithic agriculture to Greece and Bulgaria. Then it spread, with wheat and barley, into the Bronze Age agriculture of the Near East and Mediterranean.
Along with the Egyptians, the Ancient Romans and Hebrews commonly ate lentils, which are mentioned several times in the Bible - most notably in the Genesis story of brothers Jacob and Esau. Esau, the firstborn, sells his birthright to Jacob for some lentil stew.
Lentils have been part of the human diet since the early civilisations, with traces of domesticated lentils being found on the banks of the Euphrates River – often referred to as the cradle of civilisation. The pioneer civilisations also included lentils in their diet, with the Greeks considering them as “poor man’s food.”
This, however, is contrary to the Ancient Egyptians where lentils were actually found inside the tombs of Pharaohs, implying that lentils were held in high esteem in ancient Egyptian culture. Nowadays, lentils are considered a staple in various cuisines around the world.
Wash and rinse well, add plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender, drain and add to your favourite recipe.
Lentils are a great source of protein and an indispensable ingredient in curries and cooking from the Indian subcontinent.
Protein, fibre, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, minerals, aspartic acid, glutamic acid.
May cause flatulence if consumed in large amounts.